From Nova Scotia to the top of the wrestling world
Editor’s note: Journalist Jon Tattrie and wrestler Newton Tattrie aren’t related—their common last name is coincidental.
Newton Tattrie was born in Springhill, N.S., in 1931. His father worked for the Cumberland Railway and Coal Company. His parents were dedicated members of the Church of the Nazarene; his mother would sit between Tattrie and his friend Ralph McKay and pinch them hard if they misbehaved. McKay jokes that’s where Tattrie developed the tolerance for pain that would form the backbone of his decades-long career as a professional wrestler.
Tattrie had his first brush with the law before he turned 13. One Halloween he and McKay overturned an outhouse. It was unoccupied, but their deed was swiftly punished. “The police were very friendly,” McKay remembers. “It was easier to tip it over than to put it back up.”
Tattrie moved to the streets of Toronto when he was 13. Life was tough and he sought out a boxing club. He went into a wrestling gym by mistake and found his life’s calling. He became a professional wrestler.
The burly Tattrie wrestled first as Mr. Robust in Stampede Wrestling. Stu Hart, the legendary patriarch of the Hart family, including Bret “The Hitman” Hart, had recently started the Alberta-based promotion. Tattrie wrestled and worked on the oil patch.
Greg Oliver, author of six books about wrestling and writer for Slam.canoe.ca, says Tattrie’s career took off when he met Josip Peruzovic on the oil patch. Tattrie noticed the burly eastern European refugee at his matches and encouraged him to try wrestling. They formed the tag-team sensation known as the Mongols. Tattrie became Geto Mongol, while Peruzovic was his silent, menacing partner, Bepo. Tattrie got the idea from a library book about Genghis Khan.
Wrestling in dark trunks, fur coats, chains, exotic moustaches and strange patches of hair, the two were bad guys, or “heels.” They’d storm into town to threaten the local good guy, or “babyface,” and then move onto the next town.
McKay, Tattrie’s childhood friend, later owned a cottage near a Tattrie family cottage in Linden, Cumberland County. He could tell when the Mongols were on vacation: “They had their trunks on the clothes line.”
The Mongols were hated, and very popular. The travelling wrestling shows of the 1960s and ‘70s saw Tattrie move 42 times, his wife Ann estimates. He caught the eye of Vince McMahon Sr., owner of the WWWF (later the WWF, now WWE). McMahon signed them and the Mongols won the International Tag Team belts in New York’s packed Madison Square Garden in 1970.
Captain Lou Albano landed his first big wrestling gig as their manager.
Tattrie wrestled his way around the world, including stints in Africa, Japan and Singapore. The story was always the same: Tattrie was the gang leader. “These are the brutes I’ve discovered to come in and destroy whatever good guy it is,” Oliver says.
After the Mongols lost their belts, Peruzovic struck out on his own. He developed a new character that would make him even more famous: Nikolai Volkoff, the brute from the Soviet Union who would rival Hulk Hogan in the 1980s. In real life, Peruzovic defected from Yugoslavia and hated the communists.
Tattrie replaced Bepo with Bolo Mongol, Bill Eadie’s creation. Eadie, who was originally a schoolteacher in Ohio, gained wrestling fame in the late 1980s as Ax in the WWF’s Demolition tag team.
Injuries forced Tattrie out of wrestling in 1982. He found a new calling as a mentor and trainer out of his gym in Pittsburgh.
Oliver interviewed Tattrie in his later years. He describes him as a polite, reserved man. “He wasn’t the most open guy as far as professional wrestling. It changed over his lifetime,” he says. “It went from being a very closed business to being very open.”
Tattrie’s was the “kayfabe” era of wrestling, when it was portrayed as a straightforward sport, not entertainment. “In the kayfabe world where he started, he wasn’t allowed to talk about it being pre-determined. The babyfaces had to be apart from the heels,” Oliver says. “Over the years, that changed.”
Like many old-school wrestlers, he was uncomfortable with the modern era. He drifted away from wrestling and toward religion. He and his wife, who had three children, moved to Virginia Beach in 1985. The couple became involved in Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.
Oliver says his wrestling celebrity gave him the aura of the famous, but he increasingly put it behind him. “Apparently it was racy and you shouldn’t be doing this on TV. All that comes with the burden of religion,” he says.
His family still called him Geto and old-school wrestling insiders warmly remember him. Oliver says Nova Scotia’s most famous professional wrestler knew how to tell a story in the ring that could be understood by the fans in the front row, in the bleachers and watching on TV. He made you remember him. “I think the wrestling world is greater because he was part of it,” Oliver says.
Newt Tattrie, AKA Geto Mongol, died in July. He had just turned 82.
The Mongols in action
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.